Why firing Maya Khan is not the solution

There is a big problem with our media: they preach a narrow-minded concept of morality. Why? Because it sells.

Maria Waqar January 31, 2012
The protest has borne fruit: Maya Khan has been fired and her show has been taken off air. One more host of Samaa TV has been shown the door, after a clamour of complaints following the fateful episode of her morning show.

This is the moment of vindication for the online community of journalists, bloggers and ordinary citizens who were incensed (and rightfully so) after watching Maya and her coterie of minions prey on couples dating in a public park.

But lest these critics lapse into complacency over an accomplished mission, they must know that there’s more to the story. There’s a deeper trouble with afflicts our ‘free’ media and it certainly cannot be done away with by simply by purging journalists and talk show hosts at the behest of an occasional uproar.

In a way, Maya Khan was just plain unlucky– the offensive clip of her show went viral and within a day, she became the talk of the town. But think about it: how many of those who wrote op-eds and blogs criticising the show actually watched it on a regular basis? I, for one, was thoroughly offended after watching the clip, but didn’t even know that Maya Khan existed before that day.

There are numerous television channels airing morning shows and prime time programs, hosted by journalists and anchors. Are we really able to effectively keep tabs on the violation of ethical norms in our ever burgeoning media industry? Not really.

Quite like Maya Khan, many TV personalities, are involved in moral policing and passing self-righteous judgments on others. Driven by the rat race for higher ratings in an increasingly competitive media market, these people consider impartiality and ethical considerations nothing but a fig.

Switch on your TV, and you’ll see a group of sanctimonious interrogators and preachers openly condemning ‘moral outcasts’ of society. If we are to judge the situation by these shows, this category comprises a rather wide spectrum of people, ranging from actual criminals to alleged blasphemers and even youngsters who date.

Such is that state of affairs of the Pakistani media. Sadly, firing Maya Khan and her team is hardly going to end this tendency of flagrantly violating ethical considerations. In fact, by firing Maya, Samaa TV has sought a quick fix and tried to absolve itself of involvement.

Previous episodes of the same show, featuring Maya’s ridiculous chaapey, were also very, if not equally, offensive. And the channel was fully cognizant of the contents of these episodes. But no action was taken then.

As I write this piece, I can’t help thinking about other equally questionable shows anchored by ‘journalists’ on the same channel. Take the example of Jasmine Manzoor from Tonight with Jasmine, who periodically interviews prisoners complicit in shocking crimes. She thrusts the mic in their faces, questions them insolently and then shames them with her moralistic rants.



Through TV personalities like Maya Khan and the like, the ‘moral outcasts’  get vicariously lambasted and loathed by the masses— who are often quick to point accusing fingers without full awareness of facts and alternative viewpoints. Thus, in this growing genre of trash TV, the public assumes the role of the jury. And in the judge’s seat, sits the holier-than-thou journalist or anchor.

Unfortunately, the spate of articles criticising Maya Khan, articulate and cogent as many of them might have been, failed to relate the talk show to the wider issue with the media industry. Fixated on Maya Khan’s terrible idea to hound young couples, many of these writings did not quite go beyond criticism of moral policing.

But the subject begs deeper scrutiny. Did people really think that Maya Khan was unaware that she was being highly unprincipled? In my humble opinion, she knew exactly what she was doing and the program is hardly reflective of her own true worldview. One look at a video of her dancing feverishly and her pictures in western attire—featured in a news segment of an entertainment channel—will show you this discrepancy. And this hypocrisy has a deeper cause: financial motives spurred by the ratings game.

Moral policing sells. Many TV personalities have long abandoned standards of impartiality and they try to be the voice of the awaam, which is often unreasonable and rancorous. Instead of making an effort to open people’s minds, they simply perpetuate prejudices and dogmas.

Until there is a neutral body established to regulate our media, financial considerations will continue to trump ethical ones. It’s about time the watchmen of our society are also watched.

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Maria Waqar A journalist working for The Express Tribune. She can be reached on twitter at @MariaWaqar
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.